A recent survey of global executives suggests a need to evolve most organizations’ culture by dialing up 1) speed, 2) more open communication, and 3) broadening the definition of doing good for others.

The logic of evolving cultures

Let’s start with the logic of evolving cultures:

Culture is the only sustainable competitive advantage.

You have to evolve to survive.It follows that you must evolve your culture to keep it a sustainable competitive advantage as opposed to a sustainable competitive disadvantage.

Cornerstone’s survey

Add to that, the conclusions from executive search firm, Cornerstone International Group’s survey:

“The speed and ubiquity of digitalization is forcing major change in business organizations

  • Decision-making is moving closer to customers
  • Organizations are reforming smaller, more agile work groups.
  • Talent acquisition is more specialized in order to deliver niche knowledge on Day 1.

Corporate Social Responsibility is driving culture change

  • The new generation of talent will only work where social expectations are being met.
  • Social awareness requires evaluation of values and mission goals.
  • Boards of Directors and CEOs must understand and embrace social responsibility.

Technology is re-writing boundaries

  • Globalization is enabled by technology advances across the spectrum
  • Competition is no longer likely to come solely from within the core business.
  • Information is now unfiltered and shared instantly across the organization.”

Survey conclusions

My take-aways are 1) a digitalization-driven need for speed and boundarylessness and 2) an increasing importance of Corporate Social Responsibility.

That indicates the need to evolve cultures to dial up:

  1. Intuitive, exploratory behaviors aimed at getting it right vaguely right fast and iterating (speed)
  2. More informal, verbal, personalized, open communication (boundarylessness)
  3. Broaden definition of doing good for others to include the entire human race (Corporate Social Responsibility)

Identify the dimensions to evolve and choose the order

Part of why culture is your most sustainable advantage is that it’s so hard to build and hard to change. The prescription for evolution is to move only a few dimensions at a time. Create a gap between where you want to be and where you are. Here’s a set of dimensions you may find to be a useful starting point as you develop your own:

Environment – Where Play 

  • Physical Environment: Walled, formal, separated vs. Open, casual, shared
  • Impetus for Change: A change in our ambitions, mindsets and capabilities vs. a change in external conditions and hurdles
  • Growth EnablersScientific, technical, mechanical vs. Artistic, intuitive, societal

Values – What Matters and Why

  • Purpose: Doing good for me vs. Things we’re good at vs. Good for others (Happiness)
  • Learning/Safety: Safely protect what have vs. Risk more to gain more and learn.
  • Enjoyment/Order: Order matters. Rules Rule. vs. Enjoy the work and have fun.

Attitude – How Win

  • Strategy: Driving minimum viable product at lowest possible cost vs. Innovating to create more value for customers at premium price
  • Posture: Responsive to requests vs. Proactively anticipating future needs
  • Manner: Small, steady, reliable steps vs. Big leaps

Relationships – How Connect

  • Authority/Purpose: Authority: Winning at all costs vs. Serving a greater purpose
  • Caring/Results: Independents delivering results vs. Interdependents with mutual caring
  • Communication: Formal, written, structured, controlled vs. Informal, verbal, personalized, open

Behaviors – What Impact

  • Decisions: Hierarchical, controlled, set vs. Diffused, debated, evolving
  • Activities: Deliberate, prepared, rule-abiding. Do it once right. vs. Intuitive, inventive, exploratory. Get it vaguely right fast and iterate.
  • Discipline: Stable, structured, predictable vs. Flexible and fluid

Click here to request a free copy of our cultural assessment tool to help with that mapping.

Change the stories

Evolving culture is an exercise in changing unwritten rules. Jeff Leitner suggests the best way to do that is to encourage deviant behavior that can subvert the social norms – in the direction you want to head.

At a high level, (detailed a little more in my article on In Praise of Deviants,) this involves:

  • Understanding who’s doing what: The actors, their history, limits, future beliefs, frameworks and context.
  • Digging out the unwritten rules that explain the inexplicable: The norms/social situations and actions unexplained by laws or formal, explicit rules and who keeps the actors in line.
  • Helping them migrate to a better way: With a deviant behavior turned into new stories.

Click here for a list of my Forbes articles and a summary of my book on executive onboarding: The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan.